Not everyone can run 100m in 9.58 seconds like Usain Bolt. Or cook up a Michelin star meal like Gordon Ramsay. Or pick up the phone and convince someone to buy a new fridge. Or teach the next generation how to do maths. Or…well, you get the gist, and writing is no different.
On Slack, we’ve seen lots of product marketers ask for content writing advice and course recommendations and if that’s what you want, we listed a few well-reviewed sources here. If you’re after something actionable and ready to implement right now though, this article’s all you need.
So, if you’re currently responsible for all or some of your product’s content, here are 11 super simple tips to help polish up your next piece - whether that be a technical guide, sales one-pager, web copy or social ad.
1. Proof, proof, and then proof some more
Typos never look great. There are some pretty funny ones out there, some have even gone viral in fact, but the reality is they don’t do your brand any good. They scream poor quality and if people start questioning the quality of your writing, it can escalate into questioning the credibility of your product and/or service too.
To strip any slip-ups out of your next article, here are some pointers:
1. Never proofread something straight after you’ve written it. This might not always be possible but ideally revisit it with a fresh pair of eyes the next day or at the very least, a few hours later.
2. Read what you’ve written aloud at a normal pace to sense check the flow and readability of it.
3. Bump up your text a few zooms (we’re talking 150-200%). The theory: the bigger the text, the more glaringly obvious errors are to see.
4. Either out loud or in your head, slowly read through your copy letter by letter to spot things like typos and missing words. To be absolutely certain you don’t slip into the habit of skimming, hover your mouse over each word as you go along - if it sounds a tad tedious, that’s because it is, but it ensures not a single character or comma goes unnoticed.
2. Remove ‘that'
If studies and stats are anything to go by you have an ever-diminishing window to capture your audience’s attention. Which means every single word counts.
Nine times out of 10 the word ‘that’ just isn’t needed, so drop it. Your sentences will sound much better for it.
“Once that you buy our product, you’ll soon see that there’s no going back.”
“Once you buy our product, you’ll soon see there’s no going back.”
The latter’s sharper, cleaner, and still makes perfect sense - without being disrupted by redundant words.
3. Stop annoying your audience
There’s nothing quite like feeling like a complete dumpling because you don’t understand half the words on someone’s website, even though you know you’re their target market.
Best case, people will trudge along and keep Googling the words they don’t understand to make sense of what you’re saying. Worst case, they’ll up sticks, leave, and line your competitor’s pockets instead.
For example, here’s a snippet of something we found online:
“Our machine learning-based SaaS platform provides an analytical and efficient approach to enterprise organisations, allowing sales teams to make better, more efficient sales activities.”
Now here’s what’s wrong with it:
- It’s too stuffy. A well-known rule of marketing copywriting is you should write as if your audience is high school age (i.e. 9-10-years-old) and this doesn’t comply with that one bit.
- It doesn’t explain the value. What’s the end benefit of these more efficient sales activities?
So, here’s what we did with it:
"Our mission is simple. Our solutions are intelligent. And our approach is advanced. All so you can make informed decisions and focus your efforts on activities that generate income.”
The moral of tip number three: simplicity and clarity win every time.
4. Mix up your sentence structure
There’s nothing more mundane than reading an article that’s full of long and boring sentences from start to finish because it becomes exhausting to read and just doesn’t make what you have to say sound interesting at all.
See what we did there?
But equally. Don’t go overboard the other way. Like this. Can you imagine reading a whole article like this? Constantly stopping and starting. It’s disruptive. If we carried on, you’d be irritated before long.
As with anything in life, balance is key. There’s a time and a place for long sentences as there is for their shorter counterparts too. Use them both when it fits, but just remember to use both. It’ll keep your copy upbeat, interesting and engaging.
5. Keep it consistent
When it comes to writing every publisher will have their own stance on certain ‘rules’. For example, some people write out one to nine and then reference anything from 10 upwards numerically. Others, however, always present numbers numerically, whether it’s a 2, 7, or 67.
Another example could be headings and subheadings. Some Choose To Capitalise The First Letter Of Every Word, while others opt for a lowercase approach.
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong approach but just make sure you choose one and stick to it. It’ll make your content smoother and help create a more unified brand tone of voice across all your platforms.
6. Robots don’t belong in writing
If you can stick [by robots] at the end of your sentence it’s not human, see:
❌ A replacement phone will be sent to you soon [by robots].
Instead, why not say:
✅ We’ll send you a replacement phone right away.
There’s a time and a place for robotic advancements and your writing isn’t one of them. Write like you speak and people will like to read what you write - that means banning words like ‘thus’, ‘converse’ and ‘furthermore’, folks!
On the topic of conversational writing, don’t be afraid of contractions - they really can make a world of a difference. Some pretty common contractions to humanise your writing include:
- It is or it has = it’s
- I am = I’m
- I have = I’ve
- That is = that’s
- Do not = don’t
- Cannot = can’t
- Should not = shouldn’t
- Could not = couldn’t
- Have not = haven’t
- Who are = who’re
- Where have = where’ve
- Would have = would’ve
- Could have = could’ve
Not sold? Here’s the difference in your writing:
A: Not sure our product is for you? Do not just take our word for it, see what current customers have to say.
B: Not sure our product’s for you? Don’t just take our word for it, see what current customers have to say.
We challenge anyone to tell us A sounds better.
7. There’s no such thing as the grammar police…
…so don’t follow the ‘rules’ to a T. Nothing will happen if you break them. In fact, in most cases, it’ll make your writing better. Just make sure you bend the rules within reason and don’t throw the whole book out of the window.
A conjunction is a ‘word used to connect clauses or sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause, e.g. and, but, if.’
If writing rules were listened to you wouldn’t start a sentence with a conjunction - but that’s bobbins and everyone breaks it. Mainly because it’s how we speak, so it makes your copy more conversational, catchy, and engaging, which is what you want, right?
Don’t be afraid of breaking the rules and ignoring that red squiggly line Word chucks at you for making one up. Not because we’re encouraging rebellious behaviour, of course, but because sometimes it’s just needed.
What do all these words have in common? In the not-so-distant past, they didn’t belong in the Oxford English Dictionary. But now they do. Remember, all words* have gotta start somewhere.
If you do decide to start writing on the adventurous side though, just make sure you know where to draw the line - if what you say doesn’t make any sense it’ll have the opposite effect.
8. Punchy paragraphs for the win
Remember point #4 about long and laborious sentences turning readers off? Well, chunky paragraphs can do the same.
If you’re guilty of publishing seven, eight, nine, 10 or god forbid 11-line-long paragraphs, here are a few quick and easy tips to break things up:
- Limit your paragraphs to around three or four lines. There’ll be exceptions to this of course, but try and stick to it as a general rule of thumb.
- Use subtitles to break up content clusters and make sure they’re catchy, snappy and reflective of what’s to come.
- Differentiate your H2, H3, H4, etc. tags to clearly define your hierarchy. Your content will be much more manageable and scannable if it’s clear as day.
- Mix up listed content by adding bullet points (images, letters, or numbers) - these could help you earn featured snippet status too.
9. Scrap weak words
Weak words are the worst. They take up space and add diddly-squat to what you’re saying.
So, instead of spamming your writing with them, either ditch the word completely or use a stronger alternative.
“Our landing page templates are really easy to use.”
If you think about it, how much emphasis does “really” actually add? Instead, how about saying something like:
- “Our landing page templates are incredibly easy to use.”
- “Our landing page templates are unbelievably easy to use.”
- “Our landing page templates are mind-blowingly easy to use.”
Or, if you don’t want the emphasis at all, just say “Our landing page templates are easy to use.” Job done.
“We believe our product’s the best of its kind.”
Of course you believe it, you wouldn’t be saying it if you didn’t. And if you don’t believe it, then why are you saying it? Or even worse, if it’s not true, what is it doing in your copy full stop? You don’t need an alternative word for this, just delete it:
“Our product’s the best of its kind.”
10. Use capitals correctly
There are four, and only four, places for capital letters.
1. For the names of people, places, or related words
So you’ve got the country England and related words like English or Englishman. Or the name Shakespeare and the related word Shakespearean.
2. At the start of sentences
let’s be honest, this just looks weird. right?
3. For the titles of films, books, organisations, specific holidays etc.
- Titanic, Dirty Dancing, Avengers, Game of Thrones
- P.S. I Love You, The Great Gatsby, War and Peace
- Facebook, Product Marketing Alliance, Google
- Christmas, Easter, Halloween
4. In abbreviations
If you’re abbreviating a string of words, the first letter of each word should be capitalised. For example:
- BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
- USA (United States of America)
- BDM (Business Development Manager)
- CEO (Chief Executive Officer)
When you start chucking capital letters in left, right, and centre, it a) takes the emphasis off where capitals are actually supposed to be, and b) Just makes Your Writing harder to Read.
11. What’s the point?
If you can’t answer this don’t expect your readers to be able to.
From the moment you start typing that first word to the second you finish your very last, the end goal of what you’re writing should be at the forefront of your mind. When people have finished reading what you have to say, what do you want them to do or feel?
- Should they be ready to buy your product or service right now?
- Should they walk away feeling informed?
- Do you want them to leave wanting to know more?
- Is the next step supposed to be signing up to your newsletter?
- Or should they exit simply feeling content they’ve found a credible piece of content?
Whatever you want your end goal to be, it won’t happen by itself. It’s on you to engineer your content to trigger that response and to effectively do that requires careful consideration throughout.
That’s a wrap from us. What are your go-to writing tips? If you’ve got any you think other product marketers would benefit from we’d love to hear them in the comments below.
P.s. If you’re interested in brushing up your content knowledge even more you might find these useful: